BLUE FOOLS IN ARTWORLD
Fine art, these days, isn’t either fine or art. It’s not even cultural capital, per Pierre Bourdieu and Dyske Suematsu that’s been objectified then monetized. It is more than anything else a speculative instrument to be bought with the plan of increasing one’s financial capital; cultural capital is mere frosting on the cake. That’s what seems to be behind what the buyer is really up to. But what about the seller, the so-called artist; what are the fabricators of these monetized objects thinking?
There are many definitions of art from the simple, “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.” to the circular; art being something made by an artist. The first is an individualistic and historical approach where a new object is classified as art based on what the individual classifier has defined as art before; usually aesthetics figures a lot in that judgment, if you believe aesthetics is a subjective feeling to be declared rather than an objective fact to be explained, that is. Regarding the second, you need more than examples of what someone simply likes; you need a definition of art to test objects for their “artness” objectively and as definitions are consensus projects, you need a community—call it “Artworld”—to do that. But now you have to define that.
Artworld is where billionaires live, as well as the multimillionaire “artists” who feed, as well feed on them. You and I don’t live there. We read about it, though; we even pay to look at objects they loan to museums. But we live on a different planet where I know what I like and you know what you like, and that is good enough. I hang my art over my couch and you do so too, with your art. We don’t need to give a scholarly or legal definition of art, we are good with having examples of it to enjoy for its own sake.
But in Artworld that won’t work, as explained above examples are not good enough. There, thanks to both scholars and lawyers, there need be arcane definitions, yet circular ones won’t do, so a layer is added; the circularity of …art/artist/art… becomes a spiral! Art can still be historically defined though, here on the snooty side of the tracks. New objects can still be declared art simply if they are treated like old art objects. But there remains a difference. In Artworld no one is talking aesthetics, rather the conversation is of commerce and high finance, because the new objects become art if they are bought and sold—not merely liked or disliked—like the old ones, no matter what historically accepted artistic qualities they have, or don’t have.
So if some denizens of Artworld— the financially rich but culturally poor billionaires—can be talked into buying any old thing by other denizens—the culturally richer and relatively financially poorer artists— then said object becomes “art” with no historic or aesthetic considerations in play that make sense or feel right to the rest of us. And so “fine art” can and has often been nothing but an IPO, an initial public offering, with only one share being offered, and an ugly certificate to boot.
I’d like to think that the whole point of the fine art “game” is to make fools of the billionaires by taking their money in exchange for junk; that would be a good thing. But given all that money—millions and millions of dollars—is just being shuffled around among the obscenely rich—collectors, investors, dealers AND fine artists—when it could be better used helping the rest of us get by a little wiser, happier or more comfortable, be that by “real” art, see definition one, or something more direct, I fail to enjoy the theatre of it all.